Friday, 5 February 2016

From the sublime to the ridiculous - Pushkar

We arrived in Pushkar in what appeared to be the middle of the night, even though it was only about 8pm; it was surprisingly cold.

Pushkar is surrounded by the Aravalli Hills and Snake Mountain on three sides and desert on the fourth, and is built on the banks of Pushkar lake.

Our hotel had to be seen to be believed. Modelled on a Maharaja's palace (could actually have been one as every city had its own King centuries ago), it was huge and empty and a bit like visiting your grannie. Rooms were furnished with basic wooden framed beds and heavy dark brown furniture.

The bathroom was right out of the thirties, and plug sockets and light switches from the same era! Outside doors were huge and ornate and heavy enough to repel an elephant. Or several elephants.

Every ceiling was decorated with a frieze of hand painted flowers and glass hurricane lamps to die for.

It seems that the 'Maharaja' collected clocks. On each floor of the hotel were at least 10 old wall case clocks, with the odd grandfather clock thrown in for good measure. Four floors per block and two blocks - that's a lot of clocks! There were also at least two clocks in each outside summer shelter. All were working, and many chimed the quarters and on the hour - but not all at the same time! Not sure whether that was a good or bad thing.

Legend has it that Lord Brahma dropped a blue lotus flower from Heaven, and the lake formed where the flower landed. So Pushkar is a holy city, and a place of pilgrimage for devout Hindus (and hippies and every man and his dog). It is the site of the only temple dedicated to Lord Brahma in India, and there are 52 ghats around the lake.

This means that the place is heaving from dawn till dusk, and unfortunately seems to be license for some to fleece western tourists. Our driver tried to warn us not to take the flowers offered if we did not wish to visit the temple/ make a wish/ receive a blessing, but we were daft enough not to listen - or not to understand the implications. It was not possible to visit the temple empty handed you see.

So we took the flowers and soon found ourselves tipping the shoe minder and the camera locker minder and following everyone else barefooted up the steps to the temple. Our flowers were exchanged for different flowers (probably the 'student' who told us what to do expected a tip too, but he didn't get one) and we exited the temple. 

Now we could have stopped there, but the next step is to throw your flowers into the holy lake in order to receive a blessing for you and your family and your departed, and we found ourselves being swept along ('what harm can it do?').

BIG mistake! Like religious sites the world over there was a load of hype and a load of willing helpers to part tourists from their cash. 

We were led (separately) to the lake - our blessed flowers from the temple added to this plate containing rice, sugar, red and yellow a'body colour', and threads (which are eventually tied around your wrist). Lots of chanting which we had to follow, blessing every member of the family, alive or departed, and the threads were placed on a coconut (!) and blessed (more chanting), holy (aka lake) water sprinkled on us, red dye and rice marked on our foreheads and the flowers chucked in the lake (rinse and return the plate please).

So far so spiritual. And then the hard sell began - 'how many dinners do you want to provide to help our work? One month? (at £20 per day), two week?, one week? Try telling them that you don't have that kind of money but you're happy to make a small donation and they get very pushy. Having already played mind games and made you feel vulnerable, somehow you find yourself about to empty your purse. And don't forget to tip the Brahmin.

Hmmm - not my idea of good karma. And to cap it all our lunch/ kitty purse was stolen; so all in all not a good morning. 

Having regained our equilibrium we retraced our route back up the engraved stone steps to the town for a wander through the bazaar and the back streets. There are some beautiful old buildings, now crumbling and decrepit, still showing signs of past splendour, and a complete contrast to the shops full of tourist tat in the main streets. Here are a few of my favourites ...

A look through this red arch reveals a colourful passageway 

Peeling paint and exuberant decoration 

The building bottom right had a frieze depicting transport near the top

And this sign seems a bit pointless, given that pigeons are sacred birds and everyone feeds them so consequently everything is covered in their droppings (It says 'clean monument, clean India').

Also on the positive front, Hazel managed to buy some fabric - the bundles sealed with wax are orders waiting to be posted;

we ate two of the best meals we've had so far, both at restaurants recommended by our driver, the second whilst watching the sun set over the lake without a hint of tourist hype, whilst putting the world to rights with a Canadian guy who'd had a similar experience to us;

and on the way back to the hotel we managed to find the temple we had meant to visit in the first place, and the ever obliging Shyam stopped the car so we could nip out and make a record of it (we did ask permission first) - as you can see it was much more interesting than the other one!

So all was not lost on our day without a guide in Pushkar, and over our G&T we managed to have a laugh about our day, looking forward to our trip to the Stitching Project.

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